Thursday, March 03, 2011

Christian Courtship

I came across a fascinating post on my friend's sister's blog the other day detailing what it means to engage in a courtship. Courtships are relationships entered into where the focus is creating a relationship that sanctifies the Lord and working towards the goal of marriage. Often they are entered into after the man asks permission of the woman's parents (especially the father) to court their daughter. He then asks her her permission as well, sometimes in a very sweet way where he brings her a bouquet of flowers and asks her whether he can court her.

Assuming she says yes, they enter into a courtship with one another in order to understand more about one another and their service and devotion to the Lord. They are looking to see whether they will be one another's helpmates in service to God and also assessing the character traits and qualities that will enable them to take part in a beautiful marriage.

Joshua Harris, the Christian world's Gila Manolson, has written two books on this concept. The first, entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye explains why he left the world of recreational dating in favor of courtship. The second, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, details his courtship and marriage of his wife, Shannon.

I found this concept fascinating because it seems to echo aspects of our shidduch system, except in a sweeter way. Rather than exchanging references, sheets of paper, resumes and suchlike, a boy becomes interested in a girl (through meeting her at church, on a mission, or because the girl's father likes him and brings him to dinner) and asks permission of the parents and the girl herself to court her. It's very romantic.

I stumbled upon a site which contains lots of beautiful fairy tale stories of people who have engaged in Christian courtship and found their happily-ever-afters. You can read them here.

Two things seemed very striking to me as I paged through these stories of Christian courtship.

1) From reading their renditions of their stories on their blogs, it seems that the majority of these young women connect to God much more similarly to the way I do, where they talk to Him and pray to Him throughout the day and throughout their lives about anything and everything. It's like the Tevye-and-God relationship in "Fiddler on the Roof" which Dr. Haym Soloveitchik posits in "Rupture and Reconstruction" has mostly dissolved. It seems it has not dissolved amongst young devout Christians. So I felt a kinship towards this method of talking to God.

2) One of the things that seems far more positive about the Christian world than the Orthodox Jewish world is that they view single-hood as a special opportunity during which one can concentrate on one's calling, mission and service to the Lord. In fact, sometimes they even opt to stay single longer in order to continue working on their mission. There's a beautiful interview with the recently engaged Rebecca St. James where she speaks about this and says: "I think there’s a real delicate balance that God calls us to when we’re single. I don’t think he calls us to put our dreams on the shelf to the level that we’re just dead to it because then we’re not being true or honest. I think God calls us to come in our vulnerability as singles to God and say ‘Lord, I long for this, I really desire to be married, but I trust you with this dream."

I was trying to figure out what it would mean for us if we tried to take that idea of having a special calling or mission during singlehood and bring it to the Orthodox Jewish world. Many young Orthodox Jewish singles are already involved in organizations like ORA, Uri L'Tzedek, HASC or NCSY, so we have some of that service component. But the idea of taking singlehood in a positive way where God expects us to develop ourselves and serve him in a special way we would not be able to do once married (although we could then serve Him differently) charms me.


yitznewton said...

"One of the things that seems far more positive about the Christian world than the Orthodox Jewish world is that they view single-hood as a special opportunity during which one can concentrate on one's calling, mission and service to the Lord. In fact, sometimes they even opt to stay single longer in order to continue working on their mission."

Doesn't the O world have the same concept, in theory? What about the rank-and-file Christian courtship doers; do they complain as much as we do?

Also, is the courtship system as institutionalized as our system, or is it more voluntary? If voluntary, those who decide to follow it may be more disposed to tolerating a wait.

This has always sounded like a good idea to me (minus the parental involvement :) but I'm very independent). Back in my Episcopal days (no courtship over there) it didn't even occur to me to date for any reason other than to establish an exclusive, long-term intimate (soul-wise) relationship. I recently stumbled on this article at eHarmony and was dismayed at how casually they seem to look at dating.

yitznewton said...

Regarding my earlier comment, certainly in terms of yeshiva bachurim there exists the idea of putting off marriage in order to learn longer "undisturbed."

Anonymous said...

The idea of talking to HKB"H throughout the day is certainly part of our mesorah - see from a recent audioroundup:

Rabbi Shaul Robinson -Making Our Tefillot More Meaningful and More Personal

We should focus on our needs as a key to making our prayer meaningful. The challenge for modern man is the feeling he has of control over his life makes prayer less meaningful to him .
One should be talking to HKB”H (me – tata zisa help me) throughout the day.
Some stories of successful prayer (me – leaves me cold – those folks certainly should be happy but as “proof”?, don’t get me started J)

Joel Rich

Anonymous said...

How on earth do you find this system romantic? It's predicated on the idea that people who are presumably old enough to marry aren't mature enough to choose whom to date. Not to mention the idea that fathers are somehow in control of their daughters' sexuality. Do women have no autonomy? Apparently not, unless it's OK'd by men first. I'm so grateful that my family isn't involved in that (or shidduch dating, for that matter).

Anonymous said...

Why does this remind of the beshow, of the hasidim?

Primum Non Nocere said...

Just found your blog, and am enjoying many of your pieces immensely. I actually came across Josh Harris' books a few years ago, and was blown away by how healthy and correct many of his suggestions were. It was also quite remarkable that he and his fiance had decided on having what was essentially a shomer negiah relationship without having any "mesorah" for the concept. I really would echo your comments and highly recommend his first book to anyone who is dating but not yet ready for marriage and his second for anyone looking to get married.

Primum Non Nocere: The DOG Score

Keshet said...

Interesting article. I definitely feel though that using your single years in a productive and divine way is part of Judaism, my friends and I often discussed that. Also, frum dating involves quite a range--it can just easily have a story where a man admires a woman, asks about her, they start dating, etc. Not so different after all in my view:) Also, I think one key qualitative difference is that the Christian model gives women less agency and ability to be proactive in dating than the Jewish model.